In my office, I am daily bombarded with the painful reality of living in a fallen world. The topics that are discussed range from singleness to marital infidelity to miscarriage to rebellious teens. The statement that is often made is how "this" (whatever this is) does not feel good, or the question that is asked is how is "this" good? I think as Christians, especially American Christians, we have often let our "comfort culture" shape our view of the word good versus allowing the Lord to define good.
"You are good and what you do is good; teach me your statutes" (Psalm 119:68). The Lord can only do or give what he is. It would be contrary to his nature to do harm, and since he is unchanging he cannot do what he is not. Suffering is gifted (Phillipians 1:29), yet we do not see the good. This last year, I have personally wrestled with this. Several weeks ago, my older sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl, her fourth, named Emma. That same day I found out a sweet friend had received the final act of her salvation—glorification through death.
I thought of how so many well meaning Christians in the days after congratulated my sister and told her how blessed she was to have four healthy children. Simultaneously, other Christians expressed their gratefulness that God took my friend home so she did not have to continue to suffer. So, in my mind I wrestled with why my sister was so “blessed,” yet my friend daily suffered... was she cursed? Is that what people were implying? Or were they so focused on external circumstances they could not see the eternal gift by internal change that was taking place.
Both of these women were 35 and Christians. That is where their similarities stop. My friend's life was marked by fleeing a communist country as a small child, losing her father shortly after coming to America, getting sick and losing the function of both her kidneys, a kidney transplant, cancer, donated kidney failure, frequent dialysis, problematic eye sight, frequent pain, and the inability to walk without assistance. Some looked on her with pain and pity, some just didn't see her at all, but I know she was least to be pitied, for she was far more blessed than any physical eye could see.
In her pain, she chose to depend on the Lord. She daily humbled herself even to ask for help from others to walk across a room. She received so much of Jesus through her dependence on him. Through that process, the Lord continued to shape her heart to reflect his son's. That was evident by the large smile she wore on her face while she still wrestled to submit her feelings, thoughts, and desires to him. At her funeral, various people spoke on how she encouraged them, comforted them, was honest with them about hard questions. She bore much fruit through her pain. Recently, she had discussed with a friend that she was thinking of not praying for healing (knowing He was able) because she received so much of the Lord where she was that she may not be as dependent if she were healed. The Lord actually answered both prayers (healing and more of him) shortly after by taking her home.
Now, I am not saying that suffering in itself is good. I am not rejoicing about cancer, miscarriages, and divorce. I am rejoicing in what it is producing in the moment. Many people fix their eyes on a change in a future circumstance to enable them to endure the struggle. They state that when that next baby is born, then this miscarriage makes sense. Or I have seen where in retrospect they justify their suffering by their now more favorable circumstances. With that view they are still missing out on what God is doing in them and through them now, and how in these moments he is preparing them for eternity.
The beatitudes describe blessings that are contrary to what are culture esteems. James 1:12 states,"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." Our definition of good/blessed must be impacted by the eternal vs. the external. I pray we would not be so quick to make judgments and grumble about circumstances before shifting our gaze upward. Lord, may you give us eyes to see that which you say is good.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18